The Note: Potomac Primaries

For a day, at least, Washington insiders are constituents, not just foils. And they're just the beginning of who's being targeted when the presidential race makes its way through the capital region -- from the Beltway to far beyond -- on Tuesday.

Voters in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia give Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a chance to extend his winning streak, after a weekend sweep that followed a battle to a practical tie with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., on Super Tuesday.

As Obama looks to pick up delegates and extend his appeal across disparate demographic groups, Clinton is hoping to slow Obama's growing momentum -- even while she looks down the road. As polls close back east, she campaigns in El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday -- another sign that she's all-but ceding the remainder of the February contests to build a final firewall on March 4, when Texas and Ohio weigh in.


Polls close at 7 pm ET in Virginia, and at 8 pm ET in Maryland and DC, on a bitterly cold and messy day in the mid-Atlantic region.

According to ABC's delegate scorecard, Clinton holds a 22-delegate lead coming into Tuesday's voting, when 175 additional delegates are at stake -- including seven from the "Democrats abroad" primary. But Clinton's gone cold at the wrong time, and she could wake up Wednesday staring at Obama from the other side of the standings.

Maryland, Virginia, and DC also hold Republican contests on Tuesday; Maryland apportions its delegates by congressional district, while DC and Virginia are winner-take all states, with a total of 113 convention delegates at stake.

Former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., is coming off of a big weekend but has little margin for error given the mathematical challenges involved in his bid to upset Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The Democrats will be the big show: "Election officials were predicting a heavy turnout for the first-ever 'Potomac Primary,' and a great deal was at stake for the two Democratic candidates," John Wagner, Amy Gardner, and Nikita Stewart report in The Washington Post.

"Obama was angling to sweep the three jurisdictions. For Clinton, a stronger-than-expected showing could blunt Obama's momentum in what has turned into a protracted competition for convention delegates."

One key test for Obama will be white men, with polls showing that white men in Virginia and Maryland could be headed Obama's way, ABC polling director Gary Langer writes. "That's essential to his overall lead in these two states, since in neither of them are African-Americans predicted to have a large enough share to carry Obama themselves," he writes. "That suggests Obama could win white men on Tuesday, as he has in seven of the 23 previous states for which we have data. (Clinton's won them in 11, and they've tied in five.)"

The Chesapeake region offers Obama a snug demographic fit. Virginia, Maryland, and DC "fit the profile of states Obama has been winning," Peter Canellos and Michael Kranish write in The Boston Globe.

"A victory in Washington, D.C., with a large majority of black voters, is considered a foregone conclusion. But Virginia, where blacks account for 27 percent of the Democratic electorate and self-identified liberals are 34 percent, is also likely to be fertile ground for Obama. And Maryland, with 39 percent blacks and 32 percent liberals, should be as well."

If there's going to be a surprise on Tuesday -- keep an eye on Virginia. "The campaigns of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are gearing up for today's presidential primary in Virginia, a key Southern state rife with knotty demographics and shifting party loyalties," Stephen Braun writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Both camps view the Democratic vote in Virginia as their toughest matchup."

The candidates tussled to the end, with Clinton using a WJLA-TV/Politico forum Monday night to accuse Obama of cutting a deal with a top contributor (yes, the "insider" tag hurts inside the Beltway, too).

"Sen. Obama has some questions to answer about his dealings with one of his largest contributors Exelon, a big nuclear power company; apparently he cut some deals behind closed doors to protect them from full disclosure of the nuclear industry," Clinton said, per ABC's Eloise Harper and Tahman Bradley.

And was Obama allowing some confidence to spill into his rhetoric? "I started from scratch and was up against an operation that had been built over the course of 20 years by a former president, with the bulk of the Democratic establishment on their side," he told Leon Harris and John F. Harris on Monday.

"And after setting up a hundred million plus operation with hundreds of employees around the country, it looks like we've played them to a draw so far."

It's a draw that could be untied on Tuesday -- if the energy and enthusiasm is any indication. "Sen. Barack Obama got a rock star's welcome from supporters in College Park and Baltimore yesterday, stirring his supporters into a frenzy on the eve of Maryland's presidential primary," Kelly Brewington and Tom Pelton write in the Baltimore Sun.

"Clinton stuck to smaller venues, including a political science class at the University of Virginia, as both argued they were better equipped to take on Republican John McCain in the fall and deliver on Democratic priorities from the White House," Mike Dorning and Jim Tankersley write in the Chicago Tribune.

"He has momentum and money, and the potential for a month of good news that will further stoke both," Jackie Calmes writes in The Wall Street Journal. "In another year, against another candidate, Illinois's Sen. Obama might be on the verge of nabbing the Democratic nomination. . . . But Sen. Clinton is no average candidate, and party rules give the New York senator enough convention delegates to weather February's squalls until contests in March."

ABC's Jake Tapper posed the question: Should her supporters be concerned that this is not what a winning campaign looks like? Said Clinton: "Well to the contrary, I think it exactly is. We had a great night on Super Tuesday; I'm still ahead in popular votes and in delegates."

But, Tapper notes, "standing in Maryland, Clinton made little mention of Tuesday's Maryland primary, instead focusing on two states holding contests in three weeks." Said Clinton: "I am absolutely looking to Ohio and Texas."

One stubborn fact: Clinton is going to have to start winning again at some point. If she really goes 0-for-10 in the month between Super Tuesday and March 4, could she survive anything other than a sweep on the date her campaign has circled on the calendar?

"Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her advisers increasingly believe that, after a series of losses, she has been boxed into a must-win position in the Ohio and Texas primaries on March 4, and she has begun reassuring anxious donors and superdelegates that the nomination is not slipping away from her," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times.

One superdelegate spells out the stakes for Healy: "She has to win both Ohio and Texas comfortably, or she's out. . . . The campaign is starting to come to terms with that."

Taking the long view in a short campaign -- and going a while without a win -- is a dangerous game: "Recent events have unnerved some ardent Clinton supporters and, perhaps more important, donors," Anne Kornblut and Matthew Mosk report in The Washington Post.

"They report that longtime Clinton insiders "had been put on notice that victory is required in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, with no exceptions."

"The question, though, is how momentum-proof her campaign is," Linda Feldmann writes in the Christian Science Monitor. "Of Tuesday's three races, Clinton is trying hardest to score an upset in Virginia, by focusing on her strengths -- working-class white voters, suburban women, older voters, and Latinos."

Yes, Clinton still has the edge among superdelegates. But as Matthew Dowd points out, there's no reason that will last -- setting the stage for Obama to capture the nomination. "How does a party who has protested and screamed and yelled about counting all the votes, that the popular vote matters most, that an election was stolen by the Supreme Court in 2000, go against the votes and participation by voters in the Primary process?" Dowd writes in his column. "The answer is: I think it's impossible for the Democratic party establishment to go against voters in the Democratic primaries and caucuses."

"Suddenly, against all odds, the once-mighty Clinton campaign is beginning to feel like the last days of Pompeii," Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News. "Clinton spin notwithstanding, there's no disputing Obama is surging and Hillary is struggling. If you believe in the momentum theory of politics, that bodes ill for Clinton."

The national polls -- long a source of comfort in Camp Clinton -- are beginning to trend toward Obama. "Among Democrats and independents who 'lean' Democratic, Obama beats Clinton 47%-44% — the first time the Illinois senator has led the USA TODAY survey," Susan Page reports in writing up the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll.

In head-to-head match-ups with McCain, "he scores one percentage point ahead of Clinton, four points behind Obama -- both within the survey's margin of error."

Obama may have to get used to a role he's never been comfortable with. "As much as he prefers to play the underdog role, three decisive wins on Tuesday could make him, at least for now, the undisputed Democratic frontrunner," Time's Jay Newton-Small reports. "That has been a dubious honor in this year's chaotic Democratic race, especially for Hillary Clinton."

"The best news for Hillary Clinton's campaign may be that it's headed over a cliff," Slate's John Dickerson writes. "In a campaign season where conventional wisdom has been so wrong so often, she can take heart that the current view among the political class is that Obama is marching unstoppably toward the nomination."

Obama is confident -- but not as confident as Maryland's attorney general, Douglas Gansler, who warmed up the Crowd in College Park with one of those lines that might come back to haunt the campaign. "This is the state that tomorrow will put the nail in the coffin when we win this election," Gansler said, per the New York Sun's Russell Berman.

On the endorsement watch, the very publicly known meeting between Obama and former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., was called off Monday -- apparently because it was getting too much attention, ABC's Sunlen Miller reports. "It will be rescheduled. We're gonna make it happen," Obama said Monday.

The Nation's John Nichols thinks it's one endorsement that does matter -- and predicts that Edwards knows the importance of timing. "There will have to be an Edwards-Obama meeting. But once that happens, expect a decision in short order," he writes. "Edwards is not meeting with the candidates for fun. He knows that this is the moment when he matters most. He will move sooner rather than later."

And Al Gore doesn't plan to endorse in the primaries, CNN's Jessica Yellin reports.

On the Republican side -- the Republican establishment is falling into line: Monday brought McCain the backing of former governor Jeb Bush, R-Fla., as well as Gary Bauer, Republican Study Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas (and let the veepstakes speculation ensue).

Nothing says you're looking forward to the general like talking about matching funds. McCain "said at a news conference that his campaign had decided not to accept federal matching funds because 'we didn't need to,' " Katharine Q. Seelye and Elisabeth Bumiller report in The New York Times.

"Mr. McCain, who has made limiting the money spent on campaigns a central part of his record in the Senate, had considered accepting the money, particularly after his campaign ran out of money last summer. But since winning the New Hampshire primary, Mr. McCain has received enough donations to forgo the $6 million he might have received."

A big day for McCain on Tuesday could be fatal to Huckabee's (quite slim) prospects -- not that that's likely to matter at this point.

"Apparently, word that the race was over never reached Mike Huckabee. He defeated McCain in Louisiana and Kansas on Saturday and is contesting a narrow McCain win in Washington state," Paul West writes in the Baltimore Sun.

"Today's relatively moderate Republican primary in Maryland may be out of reach for Huckabee. If he steals a state from McCain, it will probably be Virginia. Evangelical Christians, home-schooling advocates and other social conservatives abound in the Old Dominion, and Huckabee has been airing commercials there."

"Huckabee shows no interest in stepping aside after his surprising strength in the South and Midwest powered him to eight victories in the past week," Perry Bacon Jr. writes in The Washington Post.

"Polling shows him trailing in Tuesday's 'Potomac Primary' voting in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. But he insists that he will not drop out until McCain has gathered the delegates needed to claim the Republican nomination -- a process that could take weeks."

And Rep. Ron Paul isn't making it any easier for McCain -- though he's coming at him from a different direction. "Paul, a Texas congressman, said he will not back McCain if he is the party's nominee unless the Arizona senator 'has a lot of change of heart,' " Jason George writes in the Chicago Tribune.

Said Paul: "I cannot support anybody with the foreign policy he advocates, you know, perpetual war."

The Note's "Sneak Peek" has some trends to watch for on Tuesday -- including African-American turnout in Maryland, Hispanic turnout in northern Virginia, Republican turnout in southwest Virginia, and delegate allocation on the Democratic side.

Obama skips ahead to Wisconsin, while Clinton heads to Texas in lieu of a Washington-area celebration.

Also in the news:

This is who could determine the next leader of the free world: ABC's Karen Travers has the story of Jason Rae, the Marquette University of junior who's not even old enough to have voted in a previous presidential election, but had breakfast with Chelsea Clinton on Monday. Not that that's such a big deal, since he's already had phone chats with Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Madeleine Albright.

Why? He's a superdelegate, naturally. Travers writes, "Rae was elected as a DNC member at the Wisconsin state party convention in June 2004. He was 17 years old at the time but there are no party rules that say a DNC member has to be of voting age."

But don't use the word. "The Clinton campaign, mindful of the fact that this could become a sensitive issue if the race comes down to superdelegates, has actually banned the word 'superdelegates' from its campaign," ABC's Claire Shipman reported on "Good Morning America" on Tuesday. "They're worried that they conveys they have special power. The word they use now is 'automatic' delegate."

An interesting moment from the WJLA/Politico forum: Clinton was asked whether she could offer an assurance that "no new business or personal scandal involving Bill Clinton" could erupt if she were in the White House. Said Clinton: "You know, I can assure this reader that that is not going to happen. . . . You know, none of us can predict the future, no matter who we are and what we are running for, but I am very confident that that will not happen."

Also in that forum, Clinton said: "Somebody told me today that Sen. Obama's never had a negative ad run against him." ("Somebody" can't remember back to South Carolina.)

Clinton's Ohio efforts get a boost on Tuesday: She's set to receive the endorsement of former senator John Glenn, D-Ohio, ABC's Jake Tapper reports.

The New York Times' Ginger Thompson tries to tackle the interplay of Obama's campaign and race: "Glimpses inside the Obama campaign show . . . that while the senator had hoped his colorblind style of politics would lift the country above historic racial tensions, from Day 1 his bid for the presidency has been pulled into the thick of them," Thompson writes.

"While his speeches focus on unifying voters, his campaign has learned the hard way that courting a divided electorate requires reaching out group by group," Thompson continues. "Instead of following a plotted course, Mr. Obama's campaign has zigged and zagged, reacting to outside forces and internal differences between the predominantly white team of top advisers and the mostly black tier of aides."

The Weekly Standard's Dean Barnett captures a glimpse of a different Obama -- the one who doesn't have the help of the latest in 1980s audio-visual equipment. "Shorn of his Teleprompter, we saw a different Obama. His delivery was halting and unsure," Barnett writes.

"He looked down at his obviously copious notes every few seconds throughout the speech. Unlike the typical Obama oration where the words flow with unparalleled fluidity, he stumbled over his phrasing repeatedly."

DNC member (and superdelegate) Donna Brazile issues a challenge to the party faithful in a Roll Call op-ed: "Here is where I draw my personal line in the sand: Let us remaining uncommitted supers wait. Before crowning the king or queen of our party, allow us to wait just a little longer to allow more voters in these upcoming states to weigh in."

On that other contest today -- The New Republic's Adriane Quinlan has all you need to know about the "Democrats abroad" primary, where voters have been logging on for a week (and where voting ends on Tuesday, but results won't be known for another week).

While you were busy taking the battery out of your stalled BlackBerry, the next Democratic debate was set: Mark your calendar for Austin, Texas, Feb. 21, with TV coverage by CNN and Univision.

That other phenomenon of the political year -- aside from viral Web video: The rip-off of the viral Web video. This one puts McCain's stump speech to music -- it's called "" (as in

The kicker:

"The commandments of the religion you practice prohibit lying." -- Fidel Castro, offering some (quite unsolicited) advice to John McCain.

"I love my brother, and I trust my brother. But I gave up letting my brother dictate my life since he determined whether he got the top or bottom bunk in our bedroom back in Chicago." -- Ari Emanuel, in a HuffingtonPost op-ed, on why he doesn't think superdelegates like Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., should determine the Democratic nomination.

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